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Heart of hospitality

FRANKLIN LIVING—Hosting outdoor gatherings is a cornerstone of spring and summer fun. With a little planning and preparation, it’s easy to welcome guests to an outdoor space that begs to be enjoyed.

If you begin planning well in advance of hosting your event, use the Alabama Gardeners Calendar to learn the necessary gardening activities for lawns and shrubs, annuals and perennials and other plants, based on the month. Included in this calendar is a timeline for activities such as soil testing, planting, pruning, fertilizing, pruning and mulching.

During May, wait until warm-season lawns are fully green before applying any fertilizer. Mow often. For roses, spray or dust for insects and diseases, and watch for insects on daylilies. Late plantings of bedding plants will still have time to produce.

Before inviting friends and family to join you for a social occasion at your home, treat the perimeter of the area with an insecticide, as well as treating against fire ants. Mow and clear the area, and remove any water collectors so as not to attract mosquitoes. Planting herbs in pots – such as peppermint, lavender, basil, garlic or rosemary – can also help repel bugs, or use citronella candles.

Once the preliminary prep is accomplished, hosts can turn an eye to creating an inviting table. Whether guests will gather cozily around rustic tables made from old doors balanced on crates or workhorses, or more formally around elegant patio tables, make sure there is plenty of space and seating for all. Chairs, stools and benches are all great options when it comes to outdoor seating.

With the global pandemic – and general good hygiene – in mind, create hand-washing stations with antibacterial soap, paper towels and hand sanitizer for your guests.

When it comes to dressing the table or tables, use your favorite tablecloths, placemats and napkins.  Don’t miss opportunities to think outside the box, either. Printed colorful wrapping paper or brown Kraft paper can be used as table runners, and lace curtains or quilts can be used for tablecloths. Do not be afraid to layer items or mix prints, stripes and solids as you let your creativity shine.

Utilize trays, buckets and baskets for serving, and protect dishes with outdoor mesh food cover protectors.

Now it’s time to set individual places – and disposable dishes aren’t the only option. Consider bringing out your favorite china or purchasing Melamine dinnerware: It comes in all shapes and colors and will help add a punch to your dinner table. Of course, when it comes to disposable items, colorful paper plates with beautiful prints are not a bad option.

For a centerpiece, place fresh flowers in containers; use what you have, such as teacups, ceramic bowls or containers, baskets, teapots and vases. Potted plants are another option.

Here are a few other tips to ensure your cookout, dinner party, campfire gathering or picnic lunch is a success:

  • Prioritize good lighting. String lights in trees can create a magical atmosphere.
  • A basket filled with blankets will keep things cozy when it gets cool at night.
  • Have various activities. Consider arranging to have guests create something to take home, like a wreath, painted picture, flower arrangement or decorated pot.
  • Liven up the evening with games, like horseshoes, croquet, cornhole, ring toss or board games.   
  • Garbage cans are a must. Dress them up with an elastic fabric cover or use pop-up trash and recycling bins.
  • Don’t forget to have good music.
  • Offer drink stations with lemonade, themed punch, tea or flavored water, using various beverage dispensers. Have plenty to drink – people get thirsty! You could also purchase plastic bottles or zipper drink pouch bags with straws and have drinks pre-filled.
  • When it comes to the meal, remember to keep hot food hot and cold food cold.
  • This is a wonderful time to support our local farmers markets, with fresh, in-season produce.
  • Do not put place food under a tree; beware of caterpillar droppings!

Don’t forget, using the Alabama Gardeners Calendar can help you have a safe time and a fabulous yard for outdoor events. Call the Franklin County Extension Office at 256-332-8880, and we will mail one to you!


Try these refreshing flavor combinations

for fruit-infused water at your beverage station

Berry with Kiwi or Orange

10 strawberries or blackberries

1 kiwi or 1 orange

Cucumber Lemon or Lime

1/2 cucumber

1 lemon or 1 lime

5 mint leaves (optional)

Watermelon Lime

1 cup watermelon

1 lime

Pineapple Grape

1 cup canned diced pineapple

Pineapple juice from can

1 cup grapes


1. Collect, wash, slice and measure all ingredients.

2. Add all ingredients plus enough cold water to fill a 2-quart pitcher.

3. Chill in the refrigerator overnight for the most flavor and keep refrigerated until ready to drink. The fruit will stay fresh in the water up to 48 hours after being prepared.

Tips for releasing flavors of the produce:

Watermelon: Cut into small pieces, 1-2 inches.

Citrus: Slice into thin pieces.

Cucumber: Slice into thin pieces.

Mint: Tear leaves.

Grapes: Slice in half.

Strawberries: Remove tops. Slice thinly.

All other berries: Slice thinly.

Kiwi:  Slice thinly.